How Jerry West used cigarette smoking to eventually land Kobe Bryant.
This story starts in the 1989 draft with international prospect Vlade Divac. The big man was projected to go anywhere between 12-20 in the NBA draft. The Lakers had the 25th pick in the draft, meaning that Divac was supposed to be gone by the time they picked. Jerry West (the Lakers GM) began to strategize about drafting Divac.
His solution was genius, West simply asked Divac to smoke as many cigarettes as possible. Teams would be scared away by his constant smoking. Vlade was seen lighting up a cigarette just as he got off the plane for the first time in America. When draft night came, Divac could once again be seen as the constant stream of nicotine backstage in the greenroom. The ploy worked as the big man fell to 26th, right into the laps of the Lakers. TNT's Craig Sager knows West played a part in Divac's green room smoking and his slipping to L.A. at 26. Sager commented "Rumor was that Vlade was smoking when he got off the plane," Sager told USA Today, "and Jerry told him to keep smoking."
Fast forward to the 1996 draft. The Lakers held the 24th pick in the draft that year. High school prodigy Kobe Bryant worked out for the Lakers and Jerry West saw something phenomenal. West got together with Bryant’s people and told them that he would surely take the 17 year old in the draft. The only problem, Bryant was supposed to go anywhere from 9-15 in the draft. The Lakers Jerry West dealt his starting center Vlade Divac to Charlotte for the 13th pick (which would become Kobe Bryant).
Wilt Chamberlain's accomplishments are widely known, from his 100 points in a game, 25,000 woman or never fouling out of a basketball game. Here are some facts you might not have known about the dipper.
1. Wilt didn't sleep the night before he scored 100.
Chamberlain spent the night before the game in New York, partying all night with a woman. Eventually he dropped her off at 6 am the next morning. With no sleep and a hangover, he boarded the train to Philadelphia at 8 AM. Then he met several friends at the Philadelphia train station and had lunch with them. After Lunch he boarded the team bus to Hershey. He arrived several hours before the game and played an arcade shooting game in the area before tip off.
2. He was Great friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Wilt and Arnold stared on the movie Conan the Destroyer together. The two quickly became friends. Schwarzenegger once remarked that "Wilt was the strongest Human being I have ever seen". He goes on to explain how he would lift up Arnold and Andre the Giant with one hand. Chamberlain and Arnold also had several different encounters in the weight room. "He would a tricep extesion, the biggest strongest guys would do 120 and he would come and do 150, 170 pounds."
3. Wilt was big 8 high jump and shot put champion in college.
Legend has it that Wilt went up to the University of Kansas track coach and asked if he could compete. The coach argued that without any practice their was no way he could be competitive. Wilt disagreed, he then proceeded to perform the high jump. In which he out jumped all of Kansas current high jumpers. In the big 8 conference Chamberlain dominated, he ran the 100 yard dash in 10.9 seconds, shot-putted 56 feet and triple jumped more than 50 feet. In the end he was able to win the Big 8 track and field championships three straight years.
4. Wilt skipped his Senior season at Kansas choosing instead to play with the famed Harlem Globetrotters.
Instead of facing triple teams his senior season in college, Wilt signed a one year contract with the Harlem Globetrotters. He then wrote and sold a story titled "Why I'm forgoing my senior year of basketball" to Look magazine for 10,000 dollars (most NBA players made 9,000 at the time). So Chamberlain spent the season touring the world with the likes of Medowlark Lemon and other Globetrotters Legends. Wilt credits the Globetrotters for advancing his basketball growth helping him to improve his overall ball handling skills. He believed that playing w the Globetrotters had a positive impact on his abilities on and off the court.
5. Wilt spent his High School summers at Kutshers resort.
In its heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s, you could go to Kutsher’s resort and see Muhammad Ali training for a fight, Mickey Mantle playing golf and a teenage Wilt Chamberlain playing basketball.
Red Auerbach the coach of the Boston Celtics spotted the talented teenager at Kutsher's and had him play 1-on-1 against Kansas University star and MVP of the 1953 NCAA Finals, BH Born. Chamberlain won 25-10; Born was so dejected that he gave up a promising NBA future and became a tractor engineer ("If there were high school kids that good, I figured I wasn't going to make it to the pros"). Auerbach wanted Chamberlain to go to a New England university, so he could draft him as a territorial pick for the Celtics, but Chamberlain didn't agree. Still Auerbach was a great mentor to Chamberlain at Kutshers during the summer. Putting him through countless basketball drills and explaining the ins and outs of life. At Kutshers Wilt used his unique height as a bellhop to hand the suitcase and luggage from guests directly to the second story of the hotel, making it easier for other Bell boys to transfer for more click here. - Wilt Chamberlain: Borscht Belt Bellhop
6. After Retirement Wilt got heavily into Volleyball
After his basketball career, volleyball became Chamberlain's new passion. He became board member of the newly founded International Volleyball Association in 1974 and became its president one year later. The following year the IVA All-Star game was televised only because Chamberlain played in it. He rose to the challenge and was named the game's MVP. He played occasional matches for the IVA Seattle Smashers before the league folded in 1979. Chamberlain promoted the sport so effectively that he was named to the Volleyball Hall of Fame, he became one of the few athletes who were enshrined in different sports. Here is a clip of Wilt playing volleyball.
7. Wilt owned a famous nightclub in NY during the 60s and 70s
Located in the basement of 2294 Seventh Avenue near 135th Street in Harlem, New York City. Renamed Big Wilts Smalls Paradise, after Chamberlain purchased the club. The spot in Harlem was frequented by the elite during the 60s and 70s. Stars like Bumpy Johnson, Sammy Davis Jr., Malcom X, Frank Lucas, Nicky Barnes, Willie Mays, Sonny Liston Langston Hughes, Muhammad Ali were all known to hang around Smalls Paradise. The club featured dancing waiters and waiters on roller skates. It also had a reputation of closing well into the AM. Often times the day would end with Breakfast dances at 8 am. Legend has it that it featured the only working air-conditioning in Harlem. Living in New York during his playing days, Wilt was a regular at Big Small's. The club was finally closed in 1986.
8. Starting in the 1970s, he formed Wilt's Athletic Club,
Wilt Chamberlain started his own Track Club in the 1970s. The team featured several prominent track athletes. They had both men and women teams that competed nationally. The club helped many of them train to compete in the Olympics. The club was located in Los Angeles and was ran by UCLA assistant coach Bob Kersee. Some of the prominent members were Florence Griffith, Greg Foster, Andrew Phillips, Alice Brown and Jeanette Bolden. At its peak the club featured more than 100 athletes. Chamberlain even thought about a return to competition. Claiming that he had never been beat in shot put and only been beaten in high jump by Olympic Gold Medalist Charles Dumas.
9. Wilt played against a bevy of hall of fame big men.
One myth surrounding Chamberlain was that he played against no height, that is far from the truth. The average center in Wilt's prime was taller and heavier than they are now. Back then their was far more talent inside. During his career he played Hall of Fame Centers Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond, Artis Gilmore, Bob Lainer, Walt Bellamy, Wes Unseld and Dave Cowens.
10. Wilt dominated basketball in his 40's and 50's against the NBA's best in famed UCLA open runs.
On a early summer day in the 1980s Chamberlain decided to play some pick up basketball at UCLA. In his mid-forties, he was able to humble rookie Magic Johnson in practice. the story goes Magic made a game ending foul call that angered Wilt greatly. Hall of fame coach Larry Brown retells the rest "Magic Johnson used to run the games and he called a couple of chintzy fouls and a goal tending on Wilt," Brown said. "So Wilt said, 'There will be no more layups in this gym,' and he blocked every shot after that. That's the truth, I saw it. He didn't let one [of Johnson's] shots get to the rim."
Chamberlain's late age dominance is well documented. In the 1980 season Cleveland offered Chamberlain a contract and at age 50 New Jersey offered him a contract, but he again declined.
11. Wilt Chamberlain almost boxed Muhammad Ali
During his time with the Lakers, Wilt got into a negotiation with Muhammad Ali. Both were interested in a fight due to its huge financial potential. The Chamberlain-Ali fight would have had an unbelievable draw, Chamberlain was offered more money than he had ever made as a basketball player. Ali's trainer was skeptical of the fight mainly because of Chamberlain's size and reach. At the time he stood 7’1, tipping the scales at 275 pounds. Wilt's greatest dream was to fight for the Heavyweight Championship of the world. So he signed a contract to fight Ali on July 26, 1971 in the Houston Astrodome. Famous trainer D"amato was fascinated by Wilt’s athletic gifts and offered to train him for the fight. Soon after Ali lost to Joe Frazier and their was no championship for Wilt to fight for. Plans started to fall through.
Wilt's best friend Sonny hill even has his doubts "I'm not sure that even a great athlete like Wilt, with limited training as a boxer, could have gone into such a bout and been competitive with someone like Muhammad Ali who undoubtedly is one of the greatest fighters of all time." Chamberlain commented "From the time I entered sports, guys tried to get me to become a fighter". He continued "Ask any boxing manager, if they had to pick an athlete from another sport to develop who they would choose, and they'll say a basketball player. That's because of some very basic things basketball players have - size, speed, quickness and hand eye coordination. And I always thought that if I had to fight somebody, it would be Ali for two reasons. "First, he was the greatest of his era. And two, he was a kind person.
While many see the fight as a gimmick there were few that questioned Chamberlains athletic prowess. It seemed as though he was successful with just about anything he chose to do athletically. While his ability is world class we are not under the impression that Wilt would have stood a chance against Ali. You can find their press conference here.